Careful planning can prevent permit-approval headaches

La Mesa Junior High student Cheyanne Soto, left, runs the 100 meter hurdles at the Hart Games, as speech pathologist Paulynn Riggens, right, runs alongside her at Valencia High School on Monday, March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Last year, the city of Santa Clarita’s building and safety department issued 6,147 permits and conducted more than 20,000 building inspections representing more than $285 million in new construction.

At the Valley Industry Association’s May luncheon, two city representatives outlined how the city reviews and approves permit applications, to help business owners avoid common pitfalls that can slow the process and add additional costs.

“More often than not, when you’re frustrated, we’re frustrated too,” said Denise Covert, an economic development associate with the city. She pointed out that nearly the entire city building code is mandated by the state and enforced by every municipality throughout California.

The code, which exists to safeguard public health, safety, and the general welfare, has several parts.

The city building code reviews a structure’s strength and stability, and its safety for occupants and property from fire and other hazards, including safe exits. It also has provisions designed to assure access to persons with disabilities, that buildings have adequate sanitation, light and ventilation, safe electrical and mechanical systems, and are safe for emergency responders.

The city’s development code governs various types of commercial use of properties, parking standards and exterior signage. For some categories of businesses, other regulations govern such areas as food health and safety, worker safety, and handling and disposition of industrial wastes and hazardous materials.

“Consistent enforcement of the codes is one of the many things that make Santa Clarita a great place to live, work and play, because we know our buildings are safe,” Covert said. She noted that the Los Angeles County Economic Development Association last year recognized Santa Clarita as the most business-friendly city.

Building permits are generally required whenever a business moves into a new space, changes how it uses and existing space, or alters the inside or outside of a building.

That leaves a range of smaller that still must meet city building code but don’t require a permit, including: Fixed or moveable racks, shelves and partitions less than six feet high; decorative elements like moldings, trim, window treatments and other interior finish work; low-voltage wiring for phone, data, intercom, sound, and security systems; portable equipment such as heating and ventilation units; and maintenance and minor repair work.

Of the four phases of the approval process (due diligence, completion of construction plans, plan approval, final inspection and issuance of permits), getting the first phase wrong generally will cause a cascade of complications through the rest of the process.

“Unfortunately, businesses are often in such a hurry to move forward with construction that critical issues are not identified until after important decisions have been made or work has started,” Covert said. She cited an example of a business that sought to expand to an adjacent building, but didn’t check to find out that the expansion represented a change in use for the second building.

“It turns out the second building would require the installation of sprinklers, which wasn’t in the owner’s timeline or budget,” she said. Avoiding stories like that is why early consultation with the staff of the permit center at City Hall is well worth business owners’ time.

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